Month: June 2014

What a teenage barista at Starbucks can teach us about lactivism

I was thrilled to come across this story the other day. (It’s almost as good as this one about the American student getting stuck inside a vagina sculpture in Germany.) To sum it up, a mother was nursing her 5-month-old baby at a Starbucks in Ottowa, when a fifty-year-old woman walked up to the counter to complain, referring to the action as “disgusting.” The barista, reportedly a teenage male, reassured the complainer that he’d handle it. He then proceeded to offer the nursing mom a free drink along with one of those sweet Starbucks vouchers for another free drink upon her next visit. To top it off, he apologized for the complainer’s poor behavior.

Win, win, win!

There is a lot to learn here, but I’ve got a couple of takeaways:

1. Supporting breastfeeding moms is good PR. I’m serious. You know that international breastfeeding symbol, the one that businesses can put in their window to let women know that it’s a breastfeeding-safe zone ?

When I was a first-time mom toting a newborn around, navigating a brand new world and unsure of  what reactions I’d get to my discreet but public nursing, these stickers reassured me that someone had my back. Of course these stickers might not have prevented anyone from harassing me as I ate breakfast with my right hand and cradled my baby’s head with my left, but they at least reassured me that the employees wouldn’t kick me out or demand that I cover up.* Stump is old enough now that I rarely nurse in public, but for the rest of my life I imagine I’ll see these stickers as a kind of endorsement, a sign that this business respects women and shares some of my fundamental values.

In the end, Starbucks got some decent press around this incident. The original Facebook post that featured this story has already collected 27,508 likes and 1,759 shares. Lactivists are loyal customers. Trust me, you want them with you, not against you.

2. Don’t hate the asshole; love the underdog. Who is this awesome teen barista, and how did he get so wise? If I had stood behind the complainer in line, I would have turned red in the face and called her out. In our North American culture, I see breasts featured everywhere all the time to sell things like beer and shoes and video games, but somehow when they’re used to feed an infant they’re suddenly “disgusting”?

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

But our barista, in a flash, knew that there was nothing to be gained from engaging with this woman directly. He focused his energy on giving a mom and her baby the compassion they needed. And that, I’m learning, is what nursing advocacy should be all about.

*As a first-time mom, I did buy a hooter hider and used it occasionally for the first month or two, but in the end, there are some reasons why covering up doesn’t work for me and many of the other moms I know.

a. My nipple is bare for less than a second. I’ve never caught anyone looking at it. Apparently, the vast majority of people have the discretion to look away.

b. It’s a nipple. So what?

c. I actually kind of need to see what’s going on down there.

d. It seems kind of weird to hide your baby under a piece of fabric.

IMG_1113

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One way to salvage a morning

The clock read 6:00 exactly this morning when Stump lifted his head from the pillow and began swiping at my face. He’s figured out that I can’t ignore him when he’s shoving his finger up my nose.

Any time Stump wakes up before 6:30, I know I’m in for it. He’s tired but won’t cop to it. Instead, he’ll refuse to do anything remotely helpful like sit in his high chair and eat breakfast or lie still with a diaper change, and instead he’ll opt for an activity like picking up a Wiffle ball bat, systematically clobbering everything in sight, and then screaming when I take the bat away. Usually, the only way to cope is to bide my time for two hours and then offer him a morning cat nap.

I know I’ve written already about what a wild child Stump is, but let me just add that in the months since that post, he’s gotten progressively wilder. He’s arrived at a stage where destruction isn’t just a hobby, it’s a career. Occasionally, he proves himself capable of giving a genuine hug, but more often hugs are a ploy to draw you in so that he can bite you, or pull your hair, or see how far he can stretch the skin on your neck.

To make things worse, I’m not on my game right now. I returned from Utah with strep throat, and am turning out to be mildly allergic to the Amoxicillin that doctor prescribed. I’ve got a rash running down my arms and spreading out from my belly button. I woke up with a headache. I might have slept for six hours, but the mirror told a different story. Oh, and Kellie had an early job this morning, so I had no juggling partner.

I was ready to throw my hands in the air, to resign myself to having the kind of morning where both of the kids and I alternate tantrums, but then Stump had a series of good ideas.

First, he selected a shirt from the clean laundry pile that said “Mommy’s Little Monster.” I put it on him and he walked to the front door and pointed.

Are you sure?” I asked him. “It’s raining out.”

He nodded.

rainOutside

Outside, lo and behold, it was one of those magical wet summer mornings. The rain seemed to calm Stump. He grabbed his brother’s baseball bat and wandered around with it thoughtfully, then settled at the edge of the porch. I sat behind him with my green tea and looked out at the yard, for once enjoying a morning moment that didn’t involve scrambling, or manhandling, or picking up thrown food.

AOut2

Then we came inside and ate scrambled eggs and honey toast. He watched an episode of Elmo’s World, terrorized Smoke for a while, threw a few fits, and by eight-thirty he was ready for his catnap. I had survived another early morning.

Leaving Colorado Part 4: “All Your Friends are Here”

Image Courtesy of Berkly Illustration https://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration

Image Courtesy of Berkley Illustration
https://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration

On the way to Colorado, we had been a caravan, a family of travelers. My partner Kellie drove a Budget truck stuffed with barn wood and boxes. The truck pulled our little along Honda behind it on a rickety car trailer. The kids and I followed behind in Kellie’s diesel pickup. Because I’m too timid to drive either of these rigs, we’d drafted two friends, Dee and Heidi, to help us with the driving.

By ten in the morning, as we crossed the line from Oregon to Idaho, the day had already warmed to 104 degrees, and the road was even hotter. The air conditioning in the truck was broken. Dee drove the pickup with the windows down, the hot air whipping our hair in all directions. It was too loud to talk, so we kept our eyes on the road ahead, trying to make it till evening, praying the kids would keep their cool. But eight miles into Idaho, Dee and I watched as one of the car trailer’s tires exploded and fell to pieces on the highway.

Our caravan pulled to the breakdown lane. As we stood on sand and asphalt, vehicles whizzing by at momentous speeds, we instantly began to melt. The baby screamed. I hunkered down with the cell phone, navigating the maze of numbers to connect with roadside assistance. Forty minutes, they told us. No guarantees.

Dee decided to wait with Kellie in the heat while Heidi took over the pickup, ready to drive me and the kids somewhere cooler. “I know where the Whole Foods in Boise is,” she offered.

Boise Whole Foods would become the only thing I’d see of Idaho both coming and going. It was where I was headed now, day two of my journey with two boys and two dogs in a tiny, stinky Honda.

This time, there was no emergency. Or, to put it another way, we’d become accustomed to a constant state of emergency, the car too hot, the endless road, the baby always on the verge of meltdown.

But Boise Whole Foods was everything I needed. It was vast and air-conditioned. They had vegetables there. By God, I wanted a fancy salad and I was willing to pay thirteen dollars for it.

But more importantly, Boise Whole Foods featured something so practical it was nearly miraculous: a nursing lounge for mothers. It had a door that locked, a sink, a changing table, an outlet where I could plug in my phone. It featured a comfortable chair where I could nurse the baby, along with toys and books to distract my older son while I sat and nursed. To top it all off, its walls featured a series of prints by Berkley Illustration titled “All Your Friends Are Here.”

Image Courtesy of Berkly Illustration https://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration

Image Courtesy of Berkley Illustration
https://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration

Strangely, the appeal of the mothers’ lounge was that it was populated by these illustrations, and No One Else. I locked the door. I nursed. I charged my phone. I splashed water on my face. No one knocked. No one sized me up and shouted “Got your hands full there”—the line that was inevitably uttered at every rest stop.

I nursed the baby with my feet up, as my older son and I discussed which of the prints we each loved the most, and which one I should order at Christmas for Mommy Kellie, who was by now 700 miles away. We might have spent twenty minutes in the mothers’ lounge, but it was restorative in the same way that catnaps are restorative. We returned to the car, disoriented, groggy, but refreshed.

Image Courtesy of Berkley Illustration https://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration

Image Courtesy of Berkley Illustration
https://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration

*Thanks to Berkley Illustration for permission to use these images.

Our Bodies are Connected

I arrived at the conference groggy and spent, the glands in my throat two swollen tender lumps. Both Smoke and Stump had been sick the week before with pink eye and a nasty cough, and now my own body hosted their germs. Stump had kept me up for half the night before, squirming and crying, and then I’d risen at five to catch my flight to Utah.

I traveled with five other colleagues, people I knew only from committee meetings and all-campus emails, and as we approached the hotel it began to snow. This was only last Tuesday. This was June. At first it was a joke—a few flakes mixed with pouring rain—but minutes later it was falling in earnest. It accumulated on the grass at the edge of the highway.

In my disoriented state, I was relieved to make it to my room alone. Here before me were the things I had dreamed of for months. Two beds with clean sheets, all to myself. A television. A heated outdoor pool down the hall. But it wasn’t the moment it should have been. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Snow, Utah, June. This is the view from my window.

Snow, Utah, June. This is the view from my window.

We were here for a conference and I’d given myself permission to miss the opening address. I was nursing a cold, after all. But already I felt torn between duty and self-care—the very feeling I was hoping to escape from.

I talked myself into taking a long shower, and once that task was through, I remembered that I needed to pump. I sat on the bed farthest from the window, and held the small plastic contraption to my left breast. The last time I had fed my son was this morning on the opposite side. He was in a strangely quiet mood, and he nursed with his eyes wide open, silent and content.

When my milk let down, a sigh went through me. I wasn’t crying, not really, but my eyes felt the pressure of tears and my body felt the pressure of longing and it was such a strange thing to be emptying my left breast into a plastic contraption so that I could continue to be away from my child for another three days.

medela

 For some reason, I began to think about women who lactated for babies they’d lost.

A week after my fist son was born, an acquaintance came to visit and she told me that she had a stillborn child many years before. “No one warned me that my milk would come in,” she said. Only two feet away, Smoke lay sleeping on my bed. “It was such a strange and terrible thing to have lost a baby and then to be making all this milk.”

My morbid thoughts were absurd. My baby was and is alive. He walks and talks and eats and demands every ounce of milk and energy I have. But I was sharing with a machine an event that I normally share with my child, and for that moment I felt somber and haunted.

And then the moment passed. I put on my pajamas and turned on the TV. I piled up the pillows made a spot for myself on the impeccably clean bed.

Over the next three days, a part of my brain held a constant awareness of the 900 miles between my body and my sons’ bodies. Since I wasn’t there to keep them safe, I prayed that they would be intact on my return. I tried to tuck this awareness deep into my brain, so I could Do Work Things, and when I wasn’t doing work things I flitted like a hummingbird from blossom to blossom, sampling all of the sweet uninterrupted pastimes I long for when I’m home caring for my boys.

When I returned, the baby walked to me, alone, arms open, saying “Mah. Mah. Mah. Mah.”

I have a belt.

I moved forward in the TSA line with caution, confused because the rules had changed since the last time I traveled. At the back of the line, a friendly officer had given us the lowdown: You can keep your shoes on unless you think they will set off the metal detector. If you have a belt, you might want to remove it.

This is my belt.

This is my belt.

I paused just before I reached the conveyor belt. I had a laptop to unpack from my carry-on, but there were none of the usual plastic bins. The officer manning the x-ray stood there waiting for me. “Just leave your laptop in there,” he said. He was gruff.

He hung onto a mid-sized plastic bowl for jewelry. I looked at it. “I have a belt,” I told him. “Good for you,” he answered. My throat made a tiny noise of hesitation. “Let me see it,” he said, throwing me a bone. Flustered, I raised my shirt.

Just above my belt sits my pouch of a belly, totally white and totally stretched out, like a deflated balloon. I could see it. He could see it. I had raised my shirt too high. I took off my belt and placed it in the bowl, avoiding eye contact.

On the other side of the metal detector, I looked at no one as I gathered my suitcase and my carry-on. The belt came through last. As I strung it through the loops, I tracked all the other bodies in my vicinity, careful this time not to lift my shirt too high.

Once I put myself back together–my bag strapped across my shoulder, my suitcase rolling behind me–I had a small revelation: that wasn’t my fault. I noted that my automatic reaction was to assume that somehow “I have a belt,” was an incredibly stupid thing to say, that my choice of words had plunged me into an unavoidable sequence of shaming events, and I was being punished by someone far smarter than me.

But he was just a snarky TSA guy trying to make his job more interesting.  He would have found a way to tease me no matter what I said. And if my flash of belly embarrassed him, then good.

Note to self: not everything is personal.

I’m Leaving Home

I’m leaving home this Tuesday and I’m not bringing my family with me. It will be the first time I’ve left Stump overnight. I’ll be flying out of Seattle to go to a four-day work-related conference in—-wait for it-—Utah.

I was invited in December and I thought that of course by then Stump and I would be ready for the separation. By then, of course, he would be sleeping though the night, and not crying every time I left the room. Oh, and I figured he’d be toilet trained, able to dress himself, and feed the dogs. And while it’s true that he’s grown and changed in the last six months, he hasn’t achieved any of the goals that I just named. He can now say “Mom-meeeee” while he’s crying. And twice in the last month he’s slept until 4 am without waking up and demanding milk. That’s about as far as we’ve come.

This is how we sleep.

This is how we sleep.

So I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I’ve been dreading this trip, entertaining the worst-case scenario as the most likely scenario.

In the worst-case scenario, Stump barely sleeps for the three nights I’m away. He wakes up screaming and refuses to be consoled. Kellie loses her mind from the sleep deprivation, and when we talk on the phone, she makes sure that I know how miserable they are. I am miserable in Utah. It’s hot, and the pool is scummy, and everyone at the conference wears suits. I come home with bedbugs. Stump, upon seeing me, bursts into tears of anger and relief. Everyone is exhausted, including me. We never catch up, and Stump never forgives me. He grows up to be a convict, or an author of short stories that always feature neglectful mothers.

This worst-case scenario has been turning over and over in my head. But there have been a few brighter moments where I’ve entertained a best-case scenario.

In the best-case scenario, Stump is easy because I’m gone. He’s a little fussy the first night, but settles with a some comforting. He gets it that nursing is not an option, and the by third night he’s learned to sleep soundly. The hotel in Utah has a beautiful pool, and there’s a convenient place to hike. I eat good food and drink some wine with colleagues. I come home refreshed to a house of pleasant people who have had a good time without me, and a baby who is happy to see me and who now sleeps through the night.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

My Magic Office

-Do you like my office?
-I *love* your office!
-What do you love about it?
Everything!

From my own perspective, my office is a rathole. It’s windowless, and so I am tempted to call it a cave, but that makes it sound either cozy or mysterious and it is neither of those things. It is a small dark room that can either be over-lit with florescent lights or under-lit with a couple dim lamps. Most of the time I opt for under-lit until a student shows up, and I say “Let’s get some light in here,” as I scramble for the light switch. I don’t want them to think that I’m secretly a troll.

office

But Smoke loves my office, and every time he comes to visit I’m reminded of the days when I was his age and I would visit my own parents at work. It was like being a celebrity and visiting a small but exotic town. There were endless smiling people to greet, and though I had no idea who they were, they often knew my name. There were new things to eat—like cracker cheese sandwiches from the vending machines, or clam chowder from the cafeteria—and I always left with souvenirs. I remember leaving my father’s office once with a small book printed on special paper. The contents featured illustrations of pansies that also looked like monkeys. I had seen it on his desk, and held it like a sacred object. When he asked if I wanted to bring it home, I could barely believe my good fortune.

Wow. I searched monkey pansy and found it exactly. The whole book is here: http://lanny-yap.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-gutenberg-how-to-tell-birds.html  I love you internet.

Wow. I searched “monkey pansy” and found it exactly. The whole book is here: http://lanny-yap.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-gutenberg-how-to-tell-birds.html
I love you, internet.

This morning Smoke woke up with a touch of pink eye. I had no meetings to attend or classes to teach, just a mountain of grading that needed my attention and so I packed the iPad and some headphones and brought my son to work with me. It seemed the whole day was a treat to him. It was a treat for him to draw at my desk with special pens while I sat at my computer. It was a treat that I let him watch a movie on the iPad and eat the stale snacks in my desk drawer. At one point I turned around and saw him crunching. “What are you eating?” I asked, and he held up a box of chocolate nonpareils that had been empty for months. He was eating the tiny candy dots that had fallen off the chocolates.

For Smoke, I imagine, sitting in my hole of an office is less like visiting an exotic town with friendly locals, and more like resting your head in a loved one’s armpit. It may be a little funky, but it’s also intimate, special and safe.

And then we went to lunch.

And then we went to lunch.

Leaving Colorado Part 3: Long Stretch of Nothing

I should have stayed in Brigham City. From what I saw, it was a friendly little place. I sat with my kids at a Panda Express watching my baby throw noodles on the floor while my four-year-old reclined on the booth. It was six p.m. and we’d been on the road since four in the morning. I had traveled 450 miles with two kids and two dogs. A rational mom would have called it a day.

But I didn’t want to spend the night in Utah. This was an ungrateful attitude considering the events of earlier that morning, but Utah had always ranked high on my list of Places that Gays Should Avoid. It was kind of a silly fear, I reasoned with myself. It’s not like I was wearing a t-shirt that said “DYKE”. Without my partner at my side, I looked like any other run-down parent. But I couldn’t get past my uneasiness.

I should buy this hat to wear when I'm traveling.  source: http://www.zazzle.com

I should buy this hat to wear when I’m traveling.
source: http://www.zazzle.com

Besides, the sun was still high and Idaho was only sixty miles away. Driving on was a commitment though; from the TripAdvisor map, it looked like we’d have to drive deep into Idaho before finding a sure place to spend the night. I bought myself an iced tea and loaded everyone back into the Honda. The dogs, who up until this point had reliably ignored the snack box, had finished the last of my chips and left the car smelling like a fart.

By the time we reached the freeway, the baby was already crying. A summer of long car trips had trained me to recognize the cry of no return. He wasn’t tired, he wasn’t hungry, he was pissed. The nearest listed motel was in Burley. I watched the road signs, translating miles into minutes: 120 minutes of crying, 112 minutes of crying. I prayed for a better option.

dogs

As we approached Snowville, the last town in Utah, the baby still screamed and my fuel tank had fallen to E. Though the road had been quiet, the gas station was full of travelers. Just a few feet beyond was the town’s one motel, set behind a lot full of dying weeds. I nearly cried with relief when the clerk told me she had a room. The baby, red-faced, snotty, teary, nuzzled into my shoulder as I paid.

The moment we settled into the room, fear kicked in. Who did I think I was anyhow, traveling alone with two young kids? What if someone climbed in through the window while we slept? What if the motel owner was a psycho and let himself in with a key? What if my fear kept me up all night and tomorrow I’d fall asleep at the wheel? What if I never made it out of Utah?

But then I remembered: the dogs. Until now, I had seen them as two more beings who took up room, requiring care and food and space. But now they were protectors who would bark like crazy the moment they sensed a hand on the other side of the doorknob. Oh how I loved them for that.

I slept soundly for six hours, which was all I really needed. When I woke up, I poured warm tap water over two green tea bags in a Styrofoam cup and let the dogs out to pee in the brisk morning air. Then I loaded my tribe into the car, and left Utah, kind Utah, behind me. There was just enough light in the sky to make out the shape of the mountains, and also the glow of a few remaining stars.

The Underachiever’s To-Do List

My summer break officially starts in 21 days. I’m trying not to think about all of the work that needs to get done between now and then, the papers that need grading, the early morning meetings. Instead, I’m just trying to trust that these days will pass, that the work will get done somehow, and by the end of June I will breathe again.

But I’m worried about my to-do lists, which are scattered on my computer, my iPhone, on scraps of paper. They’re full of crazy goals, of random ideas, of books I need to read, of essays I need to write, and 1001 ways to become a better person. I’ve learned from summers past that two months is more of a blip than a lifetime, and yet still I overplan.

So I’ve decided I need a new kind of to-do list, one that helps me actively work on underachieving, or to put it more kindly (and more accurately) one that helps me attend to my day-to-day needs rather than always scrambling towards some distant future.

1. Sleep as much as possible. My goal here is to stop counting hours, to stop treating sleep as a bargaining arrangement, e.g. If I sleep five hours tonight and six hours tomorrow, I can make it up by sleeping eight hours on Friday. No. I won’t do this anymore. I will go to bed when I’m tired and wake when the morning wakes me. And I will have long conversations with Stump about this plan, because he will need to get on board.

bed

2. Sit on the couch with Smoke and watch a movie from beginning to end. I’m not sure I’ve ever done this. I’ve tried, but always I find myself getting up and folding laundry, or grabbing my laptop and answering emails. But I’m capable of this, I know it. Maybe if I make a giant bowl of popcorn, I’ll be able to sit still for ninety minutes.

3. Binge-watch TV on Netflix. I am so overdue for this. I think I’ve watched a total of three hours of TV over the last nine months.

4. Have car-free, plan-free, errand-free days. Plan-free days scare me, but they always turn out to be the best days, the days where we actually find time to draw and make cookies, or ride bikes to the park and then stay there for two hours.

puddle

5. Cultivate friendships. Sometimes I forget to appreciate all of the people I love outside of my immediate family. Partly it’s because they are scattered across the state and the country. Partly it’s because, as a rule these days, everyone is always busy. I try to make time to maintain the friendships I have, but this means giving them just enough. It means an hour in passing here and there, but never long enough to follow a hundred tangents and then land on a comfortable silence. This summer I want to be the kind of friend who actually answers the phone, who says “yes” to the spontaneous invitation, who goes on an adventure, who has an afternoon to spare.